“Just tell yourself,” Dan Fouts once said, “that if you had played better, you couldn’t be beaten by one play.”
Fouts, the former San Diego Chargers QB, was referring to the “Holy Roller” play in a 1978 game between the Chargers and Raiders. In that game, the Raiders’ Pete Banaszak and Dave Casper appeared to intentionally kick and bat the loose football, “fumbled” by QB Ken Stabler, into the end zone for the for the winning touchdown. (Hey, the Raiders’ philosophy is “Just win, baby.”)
Now, fast forward to last Saturday in Athens. Georgia receiver A.J. Green made an excellent TD catch vs. LSU with 1:09 to play to give Georgia the lead, but was flagged for excessive celebration. That penalty figured heavily in LSU’s winning touchdown.
So many in Bulldog Nation are upset with Green. And an Atlanta Journal-Constitution headline said “One play made all the difference,” though that headline/column referred to LSU’s winning run. Well, keep in mind that the AJC is losing tons of money, and therefore given to alarmist headlines and stories to attract readers. In other words, one play NEVER makes the difference in a close football game. (Update: the SEC acknowledges that the penalty on Green was erroneous.)
Now, I feel Georgia should have beaten LSU. Even oddsmakers had the Bulldogs as favorites. (Disclosure: I’m a UGA alum.) But I do not point a finger solely at A.J. Green. Keep in mind that on the Bulldogs’ first possession, QB Joe Cox overthrew a wide-open Green, a play that likely would have gone for a TD. And in the second half, Georgia kicker Blair Walsh missed a chip-shot field goal. That’s 10 points.
And on the kickoff following Green’s penalty, the Bulldogs allowed LSU to return the ball 40 yards into Georgia territory, and threw in another five yards with an illegal formation on the kickoff. That meant LSU, trailing 13-12, was almost in field goal territory without taking a snap.
Had Georgia held the Tigers in their own territory on the return, LSU would not have had the option of running the ball, as it did for the winning touchdown. Desperation passing is always a low-percentage way to win.
For the second straight year, the Bulldogs appear to be unable to rise to the occasion in crucial conference games (including a 45-19 loss to Tennessee). In 2008, Georgia was also given to penalties and turnovers, which indicates a lack of discipline. That, I feel, goes back to the coaching staff.
It has been three seasons since the Bulldogs have appeared in the SEC title game, and chances are very slim in 2009. Florida, LSU and Alabama are leaving the Bulldogs behind, and no program should tolerate mediocrity. It’s fans won’t. Just ask Ray Goff and Jim Donnan.